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Rift still evident between coalition partners

THE RULING coalition has yet to find a way out of what one of the partners, the New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) party, called a "trust crisis", started by allegations that the mobile phone of ANO boss Pavol Rusko was illegally tapped.
At a January 28 meeting of the coalition's senior body, the coalition council, the four ruling parties agreed they would meet again in 10 days' time, after they had studied ANO's proposals on how mutual trust could be won back.
The crisis peaked in mid January, when some ANO officials called for the resignation of Interior Minister Vladimír Palko of the Christian Democratic Party (KDH) after a recording of Rusko's interview with a reporter from the SME daily was found attached to an Interior Ministry file containing legally obtained information.

THE RULING coalition has yet to find a way out of what one of the partners, the New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) party, called a "trust crisis", started by allegations that the mobile phone of ANO boss Pavol Rusko was illegally tapped.

At a January 28 meeting of the coalition's senior body, the coalition council, the four ruling parties agreed they would meet again in 10 days' time, after they had studied ANO's proposals on how mutual trust could be won back.

The crisis peaked in mid January, when some ANO officials called for the resignation of Interior Minister Vladimír Palko of the Christian Democratic Party (KDH) after a recording of Rusko's interview with a reporter from the SME daily was found attached to an Interior Ministry file containing legally obtained information.

Palko insisted that his ministry did not order Rusko's phone to be tapped, instead pointing the finger at the Slovak Information Service (SIS). The minister said that unlike the Interior Ministry, which has only 'user access' to the tapping device, the SIS has 'administrator access' to the tapping system and therefore has more control over it.

For his part, SIS chief Vladimír Mitro denied that his organisation was involved with the phone tapping, and the whole case is now being investigated by a special military attorney's office based in the western Slovak town of Trenčín.

Although Rusko refused to specify what proposals his party made to partners at the January 28 meeting, based on ANO's previous statements it is thought that they probably included so-called cross control in security and intelligence bodies. That could mean that ANO's nominees would be assigned to either the SIS or to the Interior Ministry.

But the proposed introduction of cross control had already been rejected by a number of coalition politicians days before the coalition council meeting. Representatives of the ruling parties, including Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, said that they were not sure how the cross-control nominations could work.

Posts in state administrative bodies, including ministries, were divided among the four ruling parties based on their election results, and the current political division of power in ministries and other organs controlled by the government is enshrined in the coalition agreement.

"Opening the coalition agreement would kill us," said head of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), Béla Bugár.

In a discussion show aired January 25 on the state-run Slovak radio station, PM Dzurinda said: "Cross control is not really possible because of the differing voter support in the elections [won by individual coalition parties]. It would also go against the natural principle that a minister should be responsible for his ministry," Dzurinda said.

Despite those statements, Rusko told journalists at a press briefing following the coalition meeting that he had "at last seen sincere interest in our coalition partners to resolve the situation".

Rusko said that his party's proposal would not require opening the coalition agreement, rather the proposals would be added to the coalition agreement in the form of an amendment.

"[In the proposal] there is nothing that would clash with the competencies of individual ministers, or that would force them to hire such and such section chiefs. They are posts about which we can talk from the point of view of political agreements," Rusko said.

Until the phone-tapping case is dealt with by prosecutors, no changes to personnel can be discussed by the coalition partners. The investigators have already said that the inquiry could take several months. According to Rusko, Interior Minister Palko said at the coalition council that the mysterious recording of the Rusko interview may have resulted from a technical slip.

All the coalition partners have agreed that there should be a thorough investigation into what Palko had previously called "a game" aimed at weakening his position and the position of the Slovak cabinet as a whole.

PM Dzurinda said that it was in his and the government's best interests to "find out who is the director of this game and what its goal is supposed to be".

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